Revisiting the ‘Painted Cats’ controversy

About 11 years ago there was quite a lot of discussion and frankly disgust at the release of a comedy cat photo book by author Burton Silver and illustrator Heather Busch called Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics“. An enigmatic title which does point to the ethics of what they did and they did NOT paint cats. I wondered for a long time whether they did actually paint cats or whether they photo-edited photos of cats. And when you think about it, it would be impossible to paint cats to this effect. It just couldn’t be done with this kind of success.

Painted cats by Heather Busch and Burton
Painted cats by Heather Busch and Burton. Image from the book. The photos are now in practice in the public domain in usage like this.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

However, a talented photo-editing professional could do it and apparently did do it. But because it was done so well – as you can see in the photograph – this couple of talented individuals fooled a lot of people, which I am sure was their intention. A lot of cat lovers decided that the cats had really been painted and they registered their objections to the authors.

It might be fair to say that even to this day there is still some doubt in the minds of some over whether the cats were really painted with vegetable dye or whether they were photoshopped photographs of cats. I’m sure that the authors wanted to keep the process a mystery as that was part of the magic of the book and to attract attention to it.

A sad aspect of the book is that some readers might have genuinely tried to paint cats having been inspired to do so. On one website, a cat owner commented about the book in the following way:

“Unfortunately, trying to carefully control and paint two very willful and in the end very angry cats was an experience akin to swimming freestyle through a very large and thick tangle of blackberry while having buckets of dye thrown at you…”

We don’t know whether they were having fun or whether they genuinely tried to paint their cats. Another mystery.

Wikipedia tells us that a lot of people at the time didn’t realise that the book is not real. And there were many cat owners who tried to find out how to get in contact with the artists to have their cat painted by them.

Painted Cats
Painted Cats. I claim publication here under fair use principles as this page informs people in plain language that these cats were not really painted. DON’T PAINT YOUR CAT, PLEASE!

But the book was meant to be a joke. However, perhaps it failed in that regard as it was just too subtle and the joke went over the heads of many readers or people didn’t read it but saw the pictures on the Internet and became angry or interested. It was and probably still is to a certain extent a conversation piece. It is quite a scholarly book apparently with the authors exploring various aspects of the ethics and philosophy of cat painting but why on earth do that? They even ask whether cats are aware of their colour i.e. the colour of the coat. My answer that there is no.

It would seem to have been a way of cashing in on the pictures of cats fad at that time. People sometimes forget that going back as far as 2007 when this website started the number one keyword was “pictures of cats”. That is what people were looking for using Google and other search engines. Pictures of cats was a massive topic which is why this website’s URL is ‘pictures-of-cats.org. It helped to promote this website to the number one spot in the world on cats two years after the website launch.

Painted Cats

One person who commented said that the book “uses long words just to sound pretentious bringing this book down. If you have a degree in art the book might be more enjoyable. Otherwise just get it for the pictures”. I get that.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the book is the quality of the photographs but of course they are photoshopped and when you do that you also improve the overall quality.

It looks as though the book was moderately successful in obtaining a 4.18 rating out of five from 23 reviews on good reads. I don’t expect that it made a lot of money though – just a lot of chatter.

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